March 2006 | Sujata Agrawal
A never-ending journey
JJ Irani, as chairman of Tata Quality Management Services, is piloting the group's business excellence initiative across Tata companies
Since 1994, when he was given the mandate by Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Sons, to institutionalise quality in the Tata group, JJ Irani has focused his efforts on making quality central to the companies' businesses.
In his quest for quality, Mr Irani's inspiration has been JRD Tata, of whom he says: "JRD Tata had a passion for detail. He never accepted second best and was always seeking better ways to perform even an ordinary task."
Mr Irani shares his experiences on "a journey that has no end" with Sujata Agrawal.
The purpose of business is to create value for customers; job satisfaction and career advancement for employees; surpluses for expansion and upgradation; profits for investors and development for the economy. What is the role of quality in this equation? How does quality pay?
A fairly large number of Tata companies now implement the Tata Business Excellence Model and vie for the JRD QV Award. What are the initiatives TQMS is taking to implement TBEM?
TBEM is a never-ending journey. The JRD QV Award only recognises a particular milestone [the TBEM score of 600+] but there are several more milestones along the journey to excellence which encourage companies to reach that particular goal.
TQMS plays the role of a facilitator in this journey. It guides and advises companies, helping them in demystifying and implementing the model. The people at TQMS work in different areas such as designing assessment processes, training assessors and sharing best practices. Their efforts have helped build a network of mentors, assessors and quality champions in the group.
The criteria for TBEM changed in 2002. What was the reason for the change and has this made any difference to its implementation in Tata companies?
Tata Steel was the first company to win the JRD QV Award, when you were heading it. Tell us how you did it.
Initially we faced a few problems and our scores were in the 200-300 point range. We then decided to take the process more seriously and consciously worked towards improving our processes in all the subgroups of the Malcolm Baldrige system. We rolled it out through the company, down to the last employee, and made this movement a part of our improvement programme.
It took us nearly a decade to pass the 600-point mark in 2000. I clearly recall Mr Tata's comments when he gave us the award: "If someone had asked me 10 years back, which was the company in the group least likely to win the JRD QV Award, I would have answered Tata Steel!"
Only three Tata companies have won the JRD QV Award so far. Are there some areas that companies find difficult to implement?
Though only three companies have passed the 600-mark milestone, there are several others in the 500+ points region. I am sure that they will also be passing the 600-point milestone soon which, as I have said earlier, is just a milestone in a never-ending journey towards excellence.
Is it more difficult for smaller companies in the group to get the award?
Isn't there a danger that companies may concentrate on getting the award to the neglect of their basic business?
Are there any instances where a company that does not implement TBEM still turns out an outstanding financial performance?
Recently, the Malcolm Baldrige Award included a new category for non-profit organisations. Is there a proposal to include corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives as a category in the JRD QV Award?
What is your vision for the future of the Tata group's quality initiatives?
I am sure that all Tata companies who have signed up for the TBEM process, and others who are in the process of doing so, realise that TBEM is only a manifestation of what the group has been doing for the last 100 years and more, and will continue to address it in the future.
There is always scope to improve and change as the outside environment is constantly changing, and we have to keep up with it, and preferably initiate or lead the change where we can. I believe that best practices have to be shared and not kept under cover. Learnings do not come from big companies or senior management alone. However small a company may be or however insignificant individuals might feel, they always have something to contribute.
The role of the CEO and his immediate leadership team is critical in flagging off the journey and in maintaining the momentum. Companies must stick to the regime and at no time give up, because quality has to be pursued all the time and at every opportunity.